When we found out that Sam Wasson, author of Fifth Avenue, 5 AM, was invited to attend this year’s Academy Awards, we turned green with envy. But since we couldn’t be there ourselves, Sam was gracious enough to give us the scoop on the night’s festivities.
Q: What did you think of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as hosts? Dynamic duo or awkward pairing?
A: What’s not to love? Though they did seem under rehearsed and under used, more like mascots than actual hosts. I mean where were they when we needed them most, during the Ben Stiller incident and that horrific horror montage? The host or hosts have the responsibility of making the show feel like an actual event as opposed to a series of loosely connected episodes. This year, the Oscars didn’t have that.
Q: What were your Oscar award predictions and how did they play out? Do you think the usual Oscar award “politics” were at play this year?
A: My Oscar predictions played out pretty much as I thought with the exception of Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Foreign Film. I know it’s become fashionable to put down on Jason Reitman, but I thought he (and his collaborators) wrote a terrific script, and were very clever about when and how much they delivered on genre. The Academy loves an 80% old-fashioned movie, and that’s just what Up in the Air is. I can’t say I was that surprised to see Sandra Bullock win the Oscar for Best Actress, considering the Academy’s penchant for honorably discharging Meryl Streep. I never thought I’d say this about the greatest living actress, but I’m actually beginning to feel sorry for her. Julia Child was far from her best, but it was leagues ahead of the others. And finally, I was shocked out of my cummerbund when The White Ribbon lost Best Foreign Film. It was the strongest in the category, and it had all the momentum a winning film could have. Were politics at play? Absolutely. No matter what Mo’Nique says.
Q: Hurt Locker vs. Avatar. The underdog basically stole the show this year. Was the Best Picture win a triumph of story and direction over special effects and beautiful cinematography?
A: The Best Picture win was a triumph of many, many things, aesthetic and otherwise, the most significant of which, as everyone knows, is Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman ever to win a Best Director Oscar. But I wouldn’t call either of them an underdog. Both films showcased mind-blowing feats of direction, and both were beautifully shot (though I’m still uncertain about how cinematography fits into Avatar’s largely CGI universe), and well received. The underdog – and to my mind the best picture of the year – was The Coen Brothers’ film, A Serious Man.
Q: The Oscars featured a moving tribute to the films of John Hughes. What do you think it is about his movies that people love so much?
A: John Hughes respected his characters. More than that, he got to the strangeness of being young, and – here’s the feat – he made it relatable. No matter what, Hughes took all of his people seriously, and that, when dealing with teenagers – who are so often marginalized in cinema as well as life – is a wonderful, wonderful thing. He also understood the many kinds of teenagers from the jock to the nerd to the hot girl and onward, types everyone could relate to. It gave his films immediacy. But rather than paint them with broad strokes, Hughes always gave his characters a touch of contradiction or darkness or unforeseen humor that helped them to defy the limitations of their type. That right there is so much of what his films (and growing up) are (is) about: breaking type. People love his films because no matter who they are, Hughes loved them. And when you’re fifteen or sixteen, falling in love, out of love, scared, or alone, that’s no small thing.
Q: Who were the best dressed? Worst dressed? Did you get a swag bag? Who did you get to schmooze with after the show?
A: Sandra Bullock knocked my socks off. If only we had met later, she might have knocked off even more. And Vera Farmiga! VERA! FARMIGA! Holy Mackerel! She looked like a present I wanted to give myself over and over again. After the show, I got to schmooze with the liveliest bunch of rascals in the room, the editors and the documentarians. (Word of advice: at awards shows, always hang out with the editors and the documentarians. Actors are distracted by other people, directors are distracted by themselves, and writers are distracted by the buffet, but editors and the doc-makers are always present. Along with cinematographers, they see the bigger picture.) I quite literally bypassed Charlize on my way to Lynne Littman, Rob Epstein, Richard Pearce, Lynzee Kingman, and Mark Goldblatt. I got no swag. Only the happiest hangover of my life.
Read more about the Oscar’s on Sam Wasson’s blog. His book Fifth Avenue, 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman will publish in July 2010.